Although R&B/pop starlet Jessie J is a massive superstar in the U.K., her U.S. profile is far more low-key. Part of that is due to industry shenanigans beyond her control; for starters, her last studio album, 2013’s Alive, wasn’t even released in America. But much of her underachievement here is due to a lack of creative innovation: While she’s a credible songwriter for other people—she co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”—her own music and vocals tend to be reminiscent of other pop artists.
On the new Sweet Talker, Jessie J makes great strides toward becoming more distinctive, especially on the hooky, fast-talking hip-hop twirl “Ain’t Been Done.” However, she continues to be malleable to a fault, channeling Pink (the sparse, piano-sparked R&B slow-burn “Personal”), Rihanna (the title track, co-written by Diplo) and Demi Lovato (“Said Too Much,” a radio-ready anthem built with Europop precision). Most of all, Jessie J lands in the ballpark of Katy Perry’s earnest, melismatic warbling, yet without the playfulness or personality the latter brings to her candy-colored pop.
To be fair, she shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for these generic results. Nearly every song on Sweet Talker was constructed by a team of co-writers, a level of sonic micromanagement that stifles the music’s direction rather than improves it. In fact, the album succeeds most when Jessie J loosens up. The laid-back ’80s hip-pop jam “Seal Me With A Kiss” features De La Soul (and the same Funkadelic sample which appeared on “Me, Myself & I”); the high-stepping, Britney Spears-esque “Burnin’ Up” has a tongue-twisting 2 Chainz cameo; and the strutting soul revue “Bang Bang” with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj is both flirty and fun.
Best of all is “Loud”: The sweeping ballad features striking string lines from violinist Lindsey Stirling, and dynamic vocals ranging from conspiratorial coos to inspirational diva belting. On a moment such as this one, Sweet Talker stops trying to shoehorn Jessie J into a pop star pigeonhole and lets her personality shine through. Here’s hoping her next album contains more of this character building and fewer chameleonic maneuvers.